The 2017 Texas House, from left to right

Photo by Todd Wiseman

Political scientists have for decades used roll-call votes cast by members of the U.S. Congress to plot those officeholders on the Liberal-Conservative dimension along which most legislative politics now takes place. This ranking of the Texas House of Representatives does the same — by drawing on the 1,460 non-lopsided roll-call votes taken during the 2017 regular session. As with previous rankings conducted in 2015, 2013 and 2011, this one uses a Bayesian estimation procedure belonging to the family of methodological approaches that represent political science’s gold standard for roll-call vote analysis.

Methodology

In the chart, Republicans are indicated by red dots and Democrats by blue ones. Based on the roll-call vote analysis, it provides a mean ideal point for each representative, referred to as the Lib-Con Score, along with the 95 percent credible interval (CI) for that estimate. If two legislators’ CIs overlap, their positions on the ideological spectrum might be statistically equivalent, even if their Lib-Con Scores are different. Also included are vertical dashed black lines to indicate the location of the respective median Democratic and Republican representatives.

The table (attached) contains each representative’s Lib-Con Score and rank-ordered position on the Liberal-Conservative dimension, ranging from 1 (most liberal) to 149 (most conservative). House Speaker Joe Straus of San Antonio, who by custom doesn’t ordinarily vote, is not included here. The table also details the ideological location of each representative in relation to his or her co-partisans. In each party, every representative’s ideological location was compared with that of his or her party caucus colleagues and then placed into one of seven mutually exclusive, albeit arbitrary, ordinal ideological categories going from left to right:

  1. More liberal/less conservative than 2/3
  2. More liberal/less conservative than 1/2
  3. More liberal/less conservative than 1/3
  4. Democratic/Republican center
  5. More conservative than 1/3
  6. More conservative than 1/2
  7. More conservative than 2/3

It’s important to keep in mind that Republicans can register Lib-Con Scores that are noticeably lower than those of most of their fellow Republicans while remaining conservative. It simply signifies that they have voting records that are less conservative than those of most of their fellow Republicans. For example, in the 2017 session every Republican has a Lib-Con Score that is significantly more conservative than that of every Democrat.

 

 

Republicans

The 94 members of the GOP House delegation cover a wide range of positions along the liberal-conservative ideological spectrum. The delegation ranges from Briscoe Cain of Deer Park, Matt Rinaldi of Irving and Jonathan Stickland of Bedford (whose Lib-Con Scores are virtually indistinguishable) at one end, to Sarah Davis of West University Place, J.D. Sheffield of Gatesville and Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches at the other.

Davis is the only member of the Texas House whose 95 percent CI does not overlap with that of another representative. In many respects, Davis is the Texas House’s one true independent, significantly more conservative than every Democrat and significantly less conservative than every Republican. Davis’s independent profile is a natural fit for her purple district in Houston, where a majority of voters identify with Davis’s fiscally conservative and socially moderate policy positions.

The ideological diversity of the House GOP caucus is reflected in the substantial differences observed among its members. Sixteen of the 94 Republican House members are significantly less conservative than two-thirds or more of their colleagues while 19 are significantly more conservative than two-thirds or more of their fellow Republicans. In contrast to prior periods, there are no representatives located in the Republican center.

Democrats

The Democratic delegation is much more ideologically homogenous than the Republican delegation. Lina Ortega of El Paso, Chris Turner of Grand Prairie and Gina Hinojosa of Austin form the liberal end of the Democratic ideological continuum, with Joe Pickett of El Paso, Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City and Tracy King of Batesville comprising the most centrist/moderate trio of Democrats during the 2017 session. The all-blue, five-member El Paso County House delegation has the distinction of containing the Texas Democratic Party’s most liberal and most conservative representatives in 2017.

The relative ideological homogeneity of the Democratic caucus is reflected in the presence of almost three-fifths (32) of its 55 members in the Democratic center, meaning their Lib-Con Scores are neither significantly more liberal than one-third, nor more conservative than one-third, of their fellow Democrats; a sharp contrast to the Republican delegation. Furthermore, only one Democrat is significantly more liberal than two-thirds or more of their co-partisans, with a somewhat larger contingent of six Democrats significantly more conservative than two-thirds or more of their colleagues.

Texas Freedom Caucus

In 2017 a dozen Republican representatives formed the Texas Freedom Caucus within the Republican Party delegation. In the 2017 session these same dozen legislators had the 12 most conservative voting records: Cain, Rinaldi, Stickland, Tony Tinderholt of Arlington, Matt Schaefer of Tyler, Bill Zedler of Arlington, Matt Shaheen of Plano, Kyle Biedermann of Fredericksburg, Mike Lang of Granbury, Valoree Swanson of Spring , Matt Krause of Fort Worth and Jeff Leach of Plano. The median Texas Freedom Caucus Lib-Con Score is 0.48.

There is no formal centrist conservative counterpart (e.g., a ‘Texas Tuesday Group’) to the Texas Freedom Caucus in the House as there is to the U.S. House’s Freedom Caucus. However, the Republicans who possess the dozen least conservative Lib-Con Scores (a de facto ‘Texas Tuesday Group’, for want of a better term) have a median Lib-Con Score of -.0.45. Among the remaining 70 House Republicans with Lib-Con Scores between these two extremes, 52 have Lib-Con Scores that are closer to the ‘Texas Tuesday Group’ median and 18 have Lib-Con Scores that are closer to the Texas Freedom Caucus median.

These differences underscore the Texas House’s de facto tripartite party system: Democrats, Centrist Conservative Republicans and Tea Party/Movement Conservative Republicans. The boundary that defines which side of the GOP civil war battle line a Republican representative falls on is loose and shifting compared to the clear-cut partisan battle line that separates Democrats from Republicans.

However, the data presented here illustrate the vast gulf that divides many of the Texas representatives who share the same Republican Party label, but who possess ideological worldviews that are very distinct. These salient ideological and policy differences are one of the principal reasons that during the 2017 session, the intra-party conflict that took place within the House Republican delegation was often more heated and sustained than the inter-party conflict that took place between the Democratic Party and Republican Party House delegations.

Disclosure: Rice University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Mark P. Jones

Fellow in political science at Rice University’s Baker Institute

@MarkPJonesTX

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